Changed face of history

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Peter Peacock recently revealed his vision of a curriculum for excellence with no "timetabled slot marked history" (TESS, last week).

This is to be done in the name of a more "flexible" curriculum, with more choice and less compulsion.

Yet, it would seem that pupils are to be compelled away from history in S1 and S2 - and the Education Minister should not try to pretend that this will have anything but a negative effect, both on the quantity and quality of history in those years and on the numbers choosing to study history later on. The doors, once shut, are unlikely to reopen very far.

We can all agree that the teaching of different subjects should make for a coherent education which recognises the holistic nature of knowledge - a purpose to which the study of history is eminently suited.

Mr Peacock talks vaguely about "broader forms of learning" but, before we dismantle the classification of knowledge handed down from ancient times, we should be very clear what we are replacing it with.

Mr Peacock uses emotive language about "forcing pupils to study subjects they hate". I have recently been involved in taking some 200 mainly S2 history pupils to the Anne Frank exhibition in Milngavie town hall.

They were all volunteers who paid in time and money for the privilege and got a great deal out of it, both in its own right and in conjunction with their study of the Holocaust in class.

I very much doubt they will get the same amount of time and commitment to consider such vital issues if Mr Peacock has his way. If anything, pupil preferences are an argument for making subject choices earlier, not for reducing the number of options open to them.

A stronger case can be made for the importance of history than almost any other school subject apart from English.

How many of us go on to use anything but the most basic arithmetic or science in later life, despite all our years of schooling? But we all have to grow up and build our lives and careers in a national and international society which can only be understood in the context of its historical development.

History engages with humanity, encourages analysis and debate and stimulates the imagination. It develops critical thinking, so that young people can develop into informed citizens, able to apply democratic and humanitarian values in assessing the political issues confronting them.

History, in both its enlightened and romantic incarnations, was practically invented in Scotland. Far from making Scottish education a byword for excellence, a curriculum which downgrades history, as suggested by Mr Peacock, is more likely to make us a laughing stock or worse.

Duncan Toms Whitton Drive Glasgow

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